Print Edition: April 9, 2014
It was a good end. On April 2, over 40 students, community members, and UFV faculty filled the rows of chairs in the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies (CICS) for the final reading by Daniela Elza, our writer in residence this semester.
Resident elder Eddie Gardner began the event with a song welcoming everyone.
“Welcome to our territory. This is sacred ground,” he said, translating the words before he began. Gardner also acknowledged Evelyn Lau, Vancouver’s poet laureate, as a “special guest, who is going to share some of her gifts — her medicine.”
From the beginning of the event to the end, it seemed to me the place was listening too, soaking it all in — the trees seemed to lean closer in the breeze, the grass glowed attentively green, and the sun pressed its rays to the window, peering in.
Then Elza came to the mic and spoke briefly of her time at UFV.
“This is my almost last (but one) day here, and I will miss it terribly,” she said, before presenting the line-up of readers and performers. One of the things she wanted to focus on for this last event, she said, was to do some crossing over of genres. This was reflected in the set, which included poetry, fiction, drama, and music.
Robert Martens, a local Abbotsford poet, was the first to read. He shared some of his thoughts on poetry before he began.
“I think of poetry as oral. Poetry, for me, involves the tongue — that’s the way it began.”
He read a handful of poems, some from his most recent collection, Little Creatures. From a poem on fog (“the world’s open lung, the white of your eye”) to “Cricket Moods,” Martens’ selections swelled with calm lyricism, often silvered by a shine of light humour.
He also decided to share a poem about his father, who died in 1984 and whose passing clearly still resonates with Martens. He spoke of growing up in Yarrow, where “all the Mennonites were refugees from Russia,” and struggled with PTSD. “My father, he did okay,” he said as a simple preface to the deep emotional resonance of the poem.
The next act was UFV professor Rajnish Dhawan, who invited theatre student Danielle Warmenhoven and fellow professor John Carroll to help him act out the hilarious first scene of his play, Cricket on the Golf Course.
Then Elza introduced Elsie Neufeld, a poet and historian who also volunteers at the Warm Zone in Abbotsford. Neufeld read a selection of poems, often with floral elements, including a poem based on a painting she had done related to her work at the Warm Zone called “Still Life/Death.”
UFV student Heidi Luhmert then brought forth a pearlescent blue accordion, regaling the audience with a Mexican polka, a tune from Spain, and a tango. The last song she played was dedicated to Elza.
“I felt kind of awkward when Daniela asked me [to play at the reading], because I’m not a poet… but music and lyrics are their own kind of poetry,” she said. Luhmert went on to express how much she had enjoyed having Elza as writer in residence, and selected the final song in her set with this in mind, recalling Elza’s fascination with blackbirds: “The Black Crow Polka.”
The audience, who had all been tapping their feet and swaying to the music, laughed as Luhmert noted the cheesiness of the lyrics, which told the story of cheating crows.
“Like I said, pretty bad. So I decided to just embrace the cheesy.” Then Luhmert surprised everyone, especially Elza, by singing a verse she wrote herself to the same tune — all about Elza. Unfortunately, the written word fails to fully capture how touched Elza looked, or the glee of the audience.
UFV professor Helene Littman followed the musical performance with an excerpt of her novella. A few people left around 2 p.m., the event’s official end-time, but many stayed an extra 20 minutes to hear the last two readers: Elza and Lau.
Before she began, Elza shared that part of the goal of a writer in residence is to work on her own project. She handed a manila envelope containing a manuscript to Lau: “She will have the honour of seeing the poems first,” Elza said.
As she read poems from loose-leaf pages, I noticed the notes on the back, written this way and that — likely her plans for the event and introductory notes for the performances we had seen, and it made me think of her first reading at U-House. She had read alone at that event, sharing her poetry with UFV for the first time. Now, she had achieved this crossover, or overlapping, of genres and people. Suddenly I realized we had been watching the culmination of a community’s growth this year. As writer in residence, Elza tied the local community to the UFV community to the one in Vancouver, and had united creative spirits from a number of different genres — and UFV is the richer for it.
Lau was the final act of the afternoon, and read from her books, A Grain of Rice and Treble, which she published in her 20s.
“Relationships take so much prominence in that time in our lives,” she said, speaking of the latter collection, but her words seemed to float into the present, like motes of dust in the light.